Archive for July 2nd, 2008

A story always has a beginning (setup), a middle (confrontation) and an end (resolution), though not necessarily in that order (Pulp Fiction/Kill Bill). In the beginning of a story you have to have a protagonist or protagonists who all have motivations and goals. Towards the end of Act I or the Beginning, something happens to them which interferes with their objective. This creates a conflict. In screenplay parlance this is called Plot Point I.

The Middle is all about managing the conflict, viz., trying to defeat the obstacles that prevent them from reaching their objective. Usually in the middle of the Middle or Act II, something dramatic happens which spins the story in another direction. It could be a shocking discovery by the protagonist or her capture by the villains. Anything. This propels the story towards the end of the Middle or Plot Point II, which is again an event that spins the story yet again in another direction and leads to the resolution.

The End as is all about resolution, viz., defeating the obstacles or coming to terms with them. It is the solution of the story, not the ending. The ending is the scene just before you see THE END.

Think about it. All good stories have these ingredients. Suppose you have a protagonist and nothing ever happens to her. Where’s the story? Suppose something does happen, say something wonderful and from then on life is smooth sailing. Nothing interferes with that, again, where’s the story? As Syd Field says, “All drama is conflict. Without conflict you have no character, without character you have no action, without action you have no story.” And without story, you have pretty much nothing.

When I start writing, whether it is a screenplay or a story, my objective is to get to Plot Point I as soon as possible. In a screenplay I want it within the first twenty pages. When I write a story, I envision it as a screenplay and try and get to Plot Point I within the first three-four chapters.

That is why an understanding of screenwriting is so helpful even to novel writers. It helps with the pacing and prevents them from being over indulgent.

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